Bavarian Motor Works’ sportiest sedan series dates back to 1975, with the BMW 3-series. Back then you were limited to a carbureted inline 4-cylinder motor producing 74 horsepower or an inline 6-cylinder producing 141 horsepower. They were not rocket ships, even for 70’s standards, but fans quickly adored the 3-series’ suburb weight distribution and excellent handling.
Today’s BMW range varies between a 180 horsepower turbocharged inline 4-cylinder (320i) and up to a 425 horsepower inline 6-cylinder (M3). You can’t go wrong across the line up though, because they all have near perfect 50/50 weight distribution for improved handling. This paired with a sporty design will turn a boring commute into an exhilarating adventure; one where you must ace every apex on your way to the office.
The vehicle I get to test this week is the 330e. It is the plug-in hybrid version of the pack. Don’t let the term plug-in hybrid fool you though. In terms of power, it sits in the middle of the range with 248 horsepower and 310 pounds of torque. Because BMW paired their 2.0L 4-cylinder engine with a lithium-ion powered electric motor, you get instant torque. Versus a traditional gasoline engine which achieves peak torque at high RPM. From a stoplight, this combination makes the car feel much quicker than a gasoline only engine.
The performance technology behind the BMW 330e was inspired by the BMW i8 sports car. But BMW also took into consideration fuel economy for the average driver. With a fully charged battery, you can get up 71 MPGe. Alternatively, if you have a short commute and a charger at home, you can operate the BMW 330e only on electric – for approximately 20 miles. This allows you to essentially have an a fully electric vehicle for daily commutes and a gasoline hybrid vehicle for road trips… or when you need both motors to carve mountain road. BMW integrated an intuitive power guidance system into their GPS for just this purpose. If you bookmark every trip, the 330e will programmatically optimize energy consumption by using gasoline or electric for the optimum sections of your journey.
The interior of the BMW 330e is exactly what you would expect from a sport oriented 3-series. The materials felt premium, but simple and not super luxurious. For example, the seats were made from durable vinyl versus leather; like you might find on the Audi A4 sedan or the super luxurious BMW 7-series. Solid plastics and real wood trim were used throughout the cabin to enhance the premium German look.
The ride quality felt solid, both on city streets and at highway speeds. The suspension really only comes in one setting, firm. Which I personally enjoyed because it enhanced the sporty nature of the vehicle. My wife on the other hand thought that the 330e rode too rough for a German luxury sedan that costs over $45,000 base. My response is that if you want a supple luxury car, buy a base level Mercedes or Audi. If you want a sports car disguised as a sedan, buy a BMW.
The very nature and heritage of the 3-series is performance oriented. It is no wonder why I see modified 3-series sedans and coupes at the racetrack every month. They are great handling cars that love to be driven hard. The 330e plug-in hybrid is no exception, but at the same time you get to save Mother Earth!